Supervisors will make the final vote in October. The unavoidable reality is... you can’t fix this project. It sits in the middle of a neighborhood that is reliant on private wells for drinking water. There is no viable solution for disposing of the mine waste. And it has an unacceptable energy footprint.
This opinion piece by the Community Environmental Advocates Foundation Board of Directors was originally published in The Union.
June 23, 2023
On May 11, the Nevada County Planning Commission unanimously voted “No” on the Idaho Maryland Mine project and its flawed Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Even Rise Gold’s last minute ”carrots” to reduce its impacts did not sway the Commission. And now that we have seen Rise’s conspiratorial rant about unfair treatment and indications of a lawsuit as the “stick”, we can expect that they will add more “carrots” before the project goes before the Board of Supervisors for a final vote later this summer.
Regardless, the unavoidable reality is, you can’t fix this mine project. It sits in the middle of a neighborhood that is reliant on private wells for drinking water. There is no viable solution for disposing of the mine waste. And it has an unacceptable energy footprint.
THE MINE WASTE PROBLEM CAN’T BE FIXED
The mine project depends upon being able to dispose of the mine waste (sand tailings and waste rock) by off-site sales as fill materials or construction aggregate. Rise has tried really hard to sell the idea that the mine waste is clean enough to be used without restrictions, but the Water Board stated that the testing results were insufficient to make this determination.
At stake is the risk of long term toxic mine waste discharge into our creeks, like we have from past mining projects. The most reliable test data on the potential for this hazardous drainage is from the water that currently flows out of the mine drain, and those tests show high levels of arsenic, manganese, zinc, and iron. So it is unlikely that Rise’s mine waste leachate will be any cleaner.
Compounding the problem, the Air Quality Board will require all exported materials to be categorized as “Restricted” due to the potential health hazards from the rock’s asbestos content. There’s no real market for “Restricted” mine waste.
Even if some or all of the mine waste tests clean enough to allow off-site sales, the market for aggregates is flooded. The EIR falsely interpreted data indicating that Sacramento would be a viable market, and failed to note that there are abundant supplies of clean aggregate already available nearer there. Furthermore, even if there were a market for the waste, the mine lacks the necessary facilities to produce most forms of construction aggregates.
In other words, Rise Gold has no viable solution for disposing of the mine waste.
THE THREAT TO LOCAL WELLS CAN’T BE FIXED
Numerous experts assert that, because of the fractured rock system around the mine, there is no way to reliably predict the impact on local wells from pumping out the mine water. Even the computer model provided by Rise acknowledges that more data is needed to validate the model’s predictions, yet that model predicts groundwater levels to drop 1-10 feet over a large area.
To complicate the problem, Rise’s hydrology documents contained significant errors regarding initial ground water conditions, and no current groundwater data was collected even though at least 3 years of data are needed for a reliable baseline. Thus, the FEIR included no means of accurately determining impacts on individual wells and no mandatory mechanisms for providing remedies.
The Nevada Irrigation District has made it clear that if wells are impacted, it may take years to get easements, design and install water mains, and provide service connections to homeowners. This is unacceptable. The more than 300 well owners in the area should be completely protected from damages.
GREENHOUSE GAS IMPACTS CAN’T BE FIXED
“Net Zero” is the State’s goal for carbon emissions by 2045. Yet, the EIR states that the mine will emit over 9000 tons per year of greenhouse gases. The project completely fails to adequately address the emissions for the 80 year lifespan of proposed operations.
The mine’s annual electricity use would be equal to 5,575 homes. This use would completely offset the amount of residential electricity reductions the County wants to achieve in its Energy Action Plan. If we’re serious about the County Energy Action Plan and the climate crisis, the mine is a non-starter.
In reaching their decision, the Planning Commission did their homework and professionally considered the evidence over the two day hearing. We hope that the Board of Supervisors will show the same level of professionalism, neither bow to the “sticks” nor be swayed by the “carrots”, and vote no on this deeply flawed project.
Community Environmental Advocates Foundation Board of Directors, email firstname.lastname@example.org